Author: STEPHEN GLOVER FOR THE DAILY MAIL
Is it because, despite the Brexit process driving many of us bonkers, people assume immigration has been sorted out? After all, concern about its uncontrolled nature was a major factor — possibly the main one — behind the Leave vote.
I’m afraid any thought that our marvellous Government is quietly attending to the challenges of reducing immigration, while tussling so hopelessly with all other aspects of Brexit, is wide of the mark.
While it’s true that immigration from inside the EU is sharply down, this has nothing to do with the Government. Meanwhile, non-EU immigration is running at a 15-year high. The upshot is that overall numbers coming here are not far off record levels.
In the year to September 2018, net immigration to the UK was 283,000 —which is nearly three times the Tories’ much trumpeted target (which has not been dropped) of an annual maximum of 100,000.
On Tuesday an estimate crept out of the Office for National Statistics (ONS) which suggests that this impartial organisation assumes immigration is likely to continue at a high rate for the foreseeable future.
Yet amid all the Brexit hullaballoo this rather startling prediction attracted very little notice. So far as I can see, the BBC did not even bother to report it. As for politicians, they are infinitely more interested in the horror show taking place in Brussels.
The ONS predicts that the population of England (not the UK) will exceed 60 million by 2029 unless immigration levels fall radically. At the moment it is 56 million.
In fact, the ONS forecast is based on the premise that net immigration to the UK will continue at an annual rate of 215,000, which is significantly less than it has been for many years.
Lord Green of Migration Watch (an organisation whose projections have proved far more accurate than those of any government agency) thinks immigration levels will be somewhat higher.
He believes England could be home to 60 million souls by 2026, three years earlier than the ONS envisages. Migration Watch has suggested in the past that over 80 per cent of UK population growth between 2001 and 2016 was due to the direct and indirect effects of migration.
Whichever prediction one prefers, the number of people living in England seems likely to rocket in a brief time, with much, if not most, of the increase concentrated in London and the South East, already one of the most densely populated areas in the world.
That means more demand on new housing, almost half of which may be attributable to immigration. It means more trains in which passengers are crammed together like sardines, and it means even more congested roads.
And, unless the Government miraculously gets its act together, a sudden population explosion of this magnitude will entail a growing shortage of school places, longer waits in hospitals and GP surgeries, and ever greater pressure on power and water supplies.
But — I hear a little voice —wasn’t getting immigration under control a large part of Brexit? Don’t Cabinet Ministers and the Prime Minister bang on about regaining control of our borders? Haven’t they a moral duty to act?
Yes, yes and yes. But I am afraid there’s nothing to suggest the Government is remotely on top of the problem, or has any strategy for bringing down immigration when — or if — we leave the European Union.
Of course, if this country ever extricates itself from the maw of Brussels, free movement of people from the EU will stop, and the authorities will be able to restrict these numbers. But actually they’re already coming down, and are less than half their peak in 2015.
As I’ve said, it’s no thanks to the Government. Fewer people from the EU are coming to work here because of Brexit blues and a weaker pound, which reduces foreign currency earnings. That great engine of migration, Poland, has been enjoying a mini economic boom, giving its citizens less incentive to leg it here.
Yet at the same time non-EU immigration — which the authorities are in principle able to control — has been soaring. One reason is that more people are coming here from Asia for work-related reasons.
The truth is that many businesses and the insatiable behemoth that is the NHS have become addicted to cheap labour, and if they can’t find it in Europe they will look elsewhere.
There’s absolutely no evidence that this stricken Government is prepared to regulate the flow. On the contrary. If the recent White Paper on immigration after Brexit becomes the basis of future policy, it’s likely that numbers coming to this country will increase still further.
For example, the White Paper envisages reducing the skills threshold for entry from anywhere in the world from degree-level to A-level. Unskilled workers from many countries will be able to take low-paid jobs here for 12 months, followed by a ‘cooling-off period’ of a further 12 months. Many could stay on.
Granted, this is a White Paper, whose policies are not set in stone. Nonetheless, it’s clear that Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary and the man behind it, has pandered to the wish-list of businesses while Theresa May, who favours controlled immigration, has been distracted.
By her own choice she will stand down in the near future, and it is hard to see any of the contenders jostling for her crown (one of whom is Mr Javid) trying to bring down annual numbers to a figure close to 100,000.
Needless to say, there’s nothing even vaguely racist about trying to regulate immigration, and I don’t repeat the mantra about migration often being a boon to our society with the tiniest degree of insincerity.
But it’s surely clear that our public services can’t cope with the kind of rapid increase in England’s population which the ONS suggests will happen, even with Government partially getting numbers under control.
And it seems to me extraordinary that, in the heated debate about the shortage of houses for young people, the role which unrestrained immigration has played in helping to create this unhappy state of affairs is almost never mentioned.
What will people say if, in five years’ time, overall immigration levels are where they were at the time of the 2016 referendum or — not a far-fetched idea — even higher?
Well, many people, me included, would wonder whether the ructions and convulsions of Brexit were worth enduring (assuming we do leave the EU) if at the end of it all one of the major motivations of Leave voters was ignored.
Just imagine the widespread disenchantment should one of the key promises of the Leave campaign be disregarded. Think of the damage to public trust in our political class —already pretty dented — if such a betrayal took place.
We’re not in the realms of fantasy. I believe this is the direction we are headed unless this tormented Government, which has lost its way in bickering and in-fighting, comes to its senses, and remembers what Brexit was supposed to be about.